31 October 2006

Slam dunk

The “mystery” of whether the U.S. uses the notorious torture technique known as “waterboarding” is no mystery.

Vice President Dick Cheney says we do, though not in so many words. He's so coy.

Torture is a technique of desperation and cruelty, used by cruel and desperate people the world over for countless centuries. Here in America, prior to Sept. 11, we thought we’d risen above such base brutality. For one thing, it's stupid. Torture rarely, if ever, results in actual hard intelligence – the person being tortured will tell his inquisitors just about anything they want to hear just to get them to stop hurting him.

As a way to get accurate, actionable information, torture of any kind is simply unreliable and a waste of time.

And yet ... in spite of the president’s and vice president’s protests to the contrary, the U.S. now tortures captives.

“Waterboarding” is just one of many techniques.

This is desperation. Faced with failed policies abroad and at home, with a war in Iraq that is – to put it very gently -- a fiasco, the Bush administration has moved past intelligent intelligence gathering to the low, brutish methods once reserved for witch-hunters and the Inquisition, hoping to find something – anything – that will justify taking America to war against a weak nation, slaughtering thousands and wasting billions of taxpayer dollars.

President George Washington, after having captured British troops, carefully and concisely told his officers and men not to mistreat the captives, in spite of the fact that the British threw gravely wounded and untreated American prisoners into jail with common criminals. It was a matter of principle; Washington didn’t want Americans to stoop so low.

President George W. Bush isn’t concerned with such issues.

Last week, Vice President Dick Cheney agreed with a radio interviewer’s assertion that “a dunk in the water is a no-brainer if it can save lives," though he hasn’t since explained exactly what he meant by “a dunk.” Surely the administration isn’t providing detainees with vacations to Club Med.

So perhaps Cheney meant a walk off the plank? Or someone’s head forced into a toilet until he talks?

Cheney won’t say, so it’s a short leap of the imagination to waterboarding. Such “dunking” -- and other forms of torture -- is un-American, the kind of mindless brutality that no civilized nation, certainly no democracy, should be undertaking. It shames all Americans and puts all of us at risk of the same treatment by our enemies, particularly those of us who serve in the military.

That, Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney, is a slam-dunk.

Update: Glenn Greenwald has an excellent and informative post up about our accepted policy of torture under the Bush administration. Definitely recommended reading.

27 October 2006

War and peace, the disconnect

“If we leave, then they will come after us.”

Let me get this straight, George. We send our soldiers – our kids, our dads and moms, our brothers and sisters, etc. over to Iraq so they can be targets for the terrorists. For us. In our places. If we bring them home, then the terrorists will just come over here. They’ll just pack their suitcases, catch the next flight over.

You know, I’m no innocent. I don’t believe for a second that dedicated, single-minded terrorists of many types and flavors (and Muslim jihadists are just one of them) might NOT one day wreak destruction on American soil again.

The world is what the world is. Terrorism is nothing new. It’s a horror, an attack visited by the oppressed and ultra-righteous against those they see as their unrighteous oppressors. That holds true whether the terrorists are Muslim jihadists, Basque freedom fighters, members of the Irish Republican Army, the old Bader Meinhof or dammit, Timothy McVeigh.

Terrorism didn’t suddenly wink into being with Sept. 11. Pretending we’re dealing with terrorism over there so we don’t have to deal with it here is naïve. No, scratch that. It’s criminally stupid.


That was the post I’d started working on last night.

Then, just before I toddled off to bed, I saw the story in which Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Bush’s architect of death and destruction in Iraq, tells critics of the war to “back off.”

This morning, the first thing I see in the headlines is that 43 people, including 23 Iraqi police officers, were killed during house-to-house fighting near Baghdad while I slept. The U.S. is claiming that 18 insurgents were killed too, but who knows, really.

Then I read about the Republican attack, initiated by Rush Limbaugh, on Parkinson’s sufferer Michael J. Fox for appearing in a political ad urging voters to vote for candidates that support stem-cell research in the hope it may someday help or even cure people with terrible, debilitating and often, ultimately fatal diseases and injuries.

Finally, I read that the Replicans are shrieking about the New Jersey Supreme Court ruling yesterday that allows civil unions for same-sex couples so they can share the rights enjoyed by married couples. Somehow, this benign ruling besmirches the sanctity of marriage.

Yet all these couples are asking for is the right to be legally considered “family” by the law, so should one or the other fall ill or die, they can make medical decisions on behalf of one another. They want the right that says the person dying can make sure his or her financial assets and property go to the loved partner, and they want the right to enjoy the same tax breaks heterosexual couples enjoy – whether they were legally joined by civil union (like I was) or by some pompous, bloviating, self-righteous God-person in a church.

No one is trying to destroy heterosexual marriage or deny heterosexuals the right to be married under their personal beliefs, have children and raise them however they wish. Sheesh.

Yet somehow, this non-issue is trumpeted by the self-righteous as Satan’s work on Earth.

Here’s something that’s niggled at me for a long, long time. How can people like George W. Bush (who signed legislation banning most stem-cell research) -- pro-life people – in the same breath cheerlead and support the useless deaths of thousands of U.S. soldiers and tens of thousands Iraqis?

It just doesn’t play. There’s a huge disconnect. Pro-lifers will protect blasocysts frozen in Petri dishes from being used for stem-cell research – which has the potential to save millions of lives in the future -- but enthusiastically send 18-year-olds, who have their whole lives before them, to Iraq to risk being killed for nothing more than George W. Bush’s frickin’ ego.

Because that’s what it comes down to. Our troops in Iraq are not making us safer here at home. According to the key judgements of the National Intelligence Estimate, released in part in September, our presence in Iraq is making us less safe. The war in Iraq has nothing to do with -- has never had anything to do with -- the "war on terror."

We're making moderate Muslims into extremists as we murder their sons, wives, children, husbands and families, and jeez, who can blame them? Turn the tables, and we'd be doing much the same thing. Al Qaeda didn’t exist in Iraq before we overthrew Iraq’s government, then continued killing people and looting and destroying the country as occupiers – and turning a blind eye to the sectarian divisions which had existed there for centuries.

Saddam kept a tight lid on sectarian clashes in Iraq by imposing a secular government -- and killing anyone who opposed him. Bad guy, sure. But when we toppled him, then stood by as the populace exploded around us, we created the perfect conditions for terrorists, insurgencies, sectarian violence and civil unrest. We’re responsible now for the deaths of thousands more Iraqis in the nearly four years since Shock and Awe than Saddam was in 24 years of rule as a tyrant and dictator.

We are standing up to our hips in our own shit right now. Bush is telling us, with his fingers crossed behind his back, that no, no – that’s not shit you’re smelling, and even if it is, it’s not ours. In the meantime, he’s forcing our sons, daughters, husbands, brothers and sisters to take the bullet for us even as he screeches holy righteousness about smears on a Petri dish and the right of a woman to terminate her pregnancy in its earliest stage – before the blasocyst becomes a person, grows up and is sent off to die as cannon fodder for his unholy wars.

And yes, I know we have an all-volunteer military. But once they sign the dotted line, they have no choice but to fight, whether the war is legal or not.

This is madness. We have allowed lunatics to take control of our country. And why? Because America was wetting itself with fear after 9/11. These madmen – our fellow Americans -- saw the opportunity to capitalize on it and make a mint for themselves and for others of their ilk.

Sept. 11 was a spectacular attack in terms of audacity, scale and numbers killed, but more, it was incredibly successful. For the last five years, America has been completely cowed and terrorized. Osama, who hasn’t had to lift a finger since that morning, just has to be completely satisfied with the results our leaders have given him. In fact, they took up the reins and drove that terrorism horse right on home.

Gotta stop it, folks. All of it.

Please vote on Nov. 7. Mine will be against anyone who supports the war in Iraq, supporting George’s ego by sending our sons and daughters to die violently for us by proxy while doing as little as possible to make us more secure at home. My vote will be against those who’d continue banning stem-cell research and who, in doing so, could be coldly condemning hundreds of thousands, even millions all over the world, to death. Finally, I’m voting against those who’d take away the right of women to choose whether they wish to bear a baby. Frankly, it’s none of their friggin' business.

It comes down to these things in the end. Will we, as Americans, choose war, death and cruelty over fairness and love?

25 October 2006

Wren at 50

I don’t often toot my own horn. Your Wren is a quiet type, content to stay mostly in the background, puttering around, doing her own thing.

But I turned 50 today.

I’ve done a lot of things in my life up to this day. I’m an artist and a writer, and professionally, a graphic designer and a journalist.

I’ve married twice, given birth to and raised a daughter, I’m a wife and companion and I’ve cleaned countless toilets and washed more loads of dirty laundry than I care to remember.

I’ve backpacked high into the Sierras, I’ve fallen headfirst off horses and I’ve flown a two-seater plane. I’ve directed fighter jets by radio and radar as they broke the speed of sound. I’ve qualified with an M-16 rifle and once, fired a sniper’s rifle. I hit the target, too, a slip of paper on a tree way off in the distance. I’ve fired a .357 Magnum as well, but I missed that time.

I’ve hit the dirt, camera and notebook flying as tanker aircraft dropped chemical fire retardant all around me – and all over me -- during a roaring California wildfire. I’ve participated in swiftwater rescue training and tramped around with soldiers and covered my ears with my hands with them as they blew up Claymore mines. I’ve ridden in an ambulance with a grievously burned young soldier, the victim of a training exercise gone wrong, and learned why he’d joined the Army and what he faced in a future that was shaping up, tragically, to be much, much different than he’d expected.

I’ve drawn a bath in a plastic wading pool for a bald eagle (while he waited, watching impatiently three feet away) and been knocked over by a friendly Roosevelt elk, who then gave me a big, wet kiss. I’ve held a great blue heron, the victim of some irritated fisherman’s .22, as it died in my arms. I’ve raised chickens and grown vegetables and made big pots of hot, savory soup for my family and friends.

I’ve lived and traveled in Europe. I’ve been to Hitler’s Wolf Lair, chased circus elephants through an international shipping harbor and talked to the pilots who flew in the Red Baron’s squadron. I’ve skied – badly – in the Austrian Alps and lived to tell about it. I’ve taken the wrong train. I’ve been to a German concentration camp and to abandoned submarine pens on the north coast of Germany, and I’ve felt the spirits of the unquiet dead in both places.

And I’ve learned what it means to have severe, chronic rheumatoid arthritis – and carry on, anyway.

As the months passed, leading up to this quiet but special day in my life, I found a new activism growing inside me. I wasn’t content to keep my opinions to myself anymore; after living in Germany and getting to know the subdued but vital descendents of those who supported the Nazis, and also after talking to some who had been their victims, I just couldn’t stay quiet while watching my own country fall blindly into the same sort of trap. I just couldn’t.

So I started blogging. I’m learning my way around opinion writing, discovering the pitfalls and traps of assumptions and less-than-thorough research, and I’m expanding my mind and my views. Some days my posts soar, others they fall flat. I often go to bed at night with my head feeling like it’s about to burst, but it’s a curiously wonderful feeling.

I owe thanks for much of what I’ve learned to you, my readers, who I can’t help but think of as friends. And as I move forward from today, my 50th anniversary of life on this incredible Earth, I know I’m embarking on yet another adventure.

More bamboozlement

Faced with a potential loss of influence and power in the upcoming mid-term elections, President Bush calls a craven little press conference and, in an attempt to appear concerned about the slaughterhouse war he started, admits things aren’t going so well in Iraq.

He said he thinks he “owes an explanation” to the American people. Boy, does he ever. But Bush’s “explanation” today is merely more of the same empty rhetoric and just more bamboozlement. What we’ve been doing in Iraq is what we’ll continue doing in Iraq, because to do anything else would mean we were “cutting and running.”

He won’t set a timetable to remove American troops from Iraq because that would mean admitting defeat. To a man who’s failed at everything he’s done in his life, and who has always been rich enough to be able to walk away to leave others to clean up the rubble, “defeat” is a bad word.

His personal boneheadedness is killing Americans. Ninety-three have died this month alone. He admitted that, too, but offered little in the way of remorse. The man has no soul.

The Presidency of the United States was George W. Bush’s last chance to do something right and good. He blew it coming out the gate when he stole the election in Florida in order to get the prize.

The war of opportunity against Iraq was his most monumental screw-up. It has cost, and will continue to cost thousands upon thousands of American and Iraqi lives.

Even as we grieved the innocent Americans lost in the terrible attacks of Sept. 11, many Americans, myself included, knew this war was wrong, even criminal, and opposed it on those grounds. We also knew, way back in the summer of 2002 when it became clear that George was gonna have hisself a little war whether we liked it or not, that America couldn’t win it.

Even with only the vaguest understanding of the cultural and societal history of Iraq, gleaned during the Gulf War in the early 90s, we knew that to attack Iraq would mean fighting not an Iraqi Army, but a guerrilla war. We knew Saddam’s troops were toothless – the U.S. and the world had kept them that way, following Saddam’s failed attempt to take tiny, oil-rich Kuwait. G.W.’s daddy had decided not to follow Saddam back to Baghdad and overthrow his regime because he knew it would end in unmitigated disaster. It would be a debacle, a quagmire, and the cost in lives and treasure on both sides was simply unacceptable.

We knew, Colin Powell’s prevaricating tapdance before the entire world aside, that Saddam didn’t have the capability to build nuclear weapons. WMD were nothing more than pipe dreams in a toothless dictator’s head. But they were good enough for George W. Bush as an excuse to exercise his stolen power.

If the war in Iraq had merely been a mistake – on an almost unimaginable scale – things would have been different once the initial assault was over. Cooler heads would have prevailed. Instead of sitting by while looters ran rampant and infrastructure was further destroyed with the monstrous words, “stuff happens,” we’d have bitten the bullet, sent in more troops and stopped it. We’d have shown the idiots that got us there to quiet cells to await trial and set about trying to fix what they’d destroyed.

But the war against Iraq was no mistake. As long as there was no oversight, Bush and his cronies could drop their drawers and rape both Iraq and America in broad daylight, over and over again. Then they made that war the excuse to curtail civil rights at home and dismantle the Constitution, America’s very bedrock, so no one could ever stop them.

Defeat was, and is, inevitable in Iraq. I don’t believe we should “cut and run”; we’ve visited death and destruction upon an entire nation, and the only honorable thing to do is try to put it right, somehow. Redeployment may be a chance, but it also may be far too late for that.

But before we can make even a small step toward atonement, as Americans we have to stand up and admit that we were bamboozled by a cadre of wicked, ruthless, ambitious charlatans into prosecuting this war. Then we must get to the painful job of neutralizing and bringing them to justice so we can act with honor and humility.

It won’t be easy. Americans don’t like to see themselves as losers, but we’re babes in the great scheme of world history. We sure aren't the first powerful nation to overstep our bounds, and we probably won't be the last. But if we pull back from the brink now, we might survive.

We know the truth, now. If we don’t step back, we deserve to fall.

23 October 2006

Eyes wide open

How do we punish people as deeply twisted and malignant as George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, John Ashcroft, Alberto Gonzalez and Condoleeza Rice? John Wolfowitz, Colin Powell and many others, all of whom invented and spoke lies to justify waging war on Iraq?

How do we punish both Houses of Congress -- Republican and Democrat alike -- who voted to support this unspeakable atrocity?

How do we punish the ones who ignored their lies, who enabled them, who cheered them on, or who just didn’t care?

How, my friends, do we punish ourselves?

October 23, 2006

BAGHDAD — I keep seeing his face. He appears to be in his mid-20s, bespectacled, slightly bearded, and somehow his smile conveys a sense of prosperity to come. Perhaps he is set to marry, or enroll in graduate school, or launch a business — all of these flights of ambition seem possible.

In the next few images he is encased in plastic: His face is frozen in a ghoulish grimace. Blackened lesions blemish his neck.

"Drill holes," says Col. Khaled Rasheed, an Iraqi commander who is showing me the set of photographs.

He preserves the snapshots in a drawer, the image of the young man brimming with expectations always on top. There is no name, no identification, just a series of photos that documents the transformation of some mother's son into a slab of meat on a bloody table in a morgue.

"Please, please, I must show these photographs to President Bush," Rasheed pleads in desperation, as we sit in a bombed-out palace along the Tigris, once the elegant domain of Saddam Hussein's wife, now the command center for an Iraqi army battalion. "President Bush must know what is happening in Baghdad!"


Hat-tip to Digby at Hullabaloo.

22 October 2006

My son, the war criminal

From the NYT, in a story about blind optimism in the face of looming disaster:

Mr. Bush has been saying for months that he believes Republicans will keep control of the House and the Senate, and he is not changing his tune now, even if it means taking the rare step of rebuking his own father.
In an interview shown Sunday on ABC News, Mr. Bush was asked about a comment by the first President Bush, who said this month that he hated to think about life for his son if Democrats took control of Congress. “He shouldn’t be speculating like that, because he should have called me ahead of time,” the president said, “and I’d tell him they’re not going to.”

But Poppy Bush knows the score. As the parent of a grown but still infantile son on a one-way, petal-to-the-metal streak toward international ignominy of historic proportions, George Herbert Walker Bush has shown remarkable restraint. Until now.

As he and the Bush Matriarch sat back and watched for six years, keeping a stiff upper lip, the product of their loins has almost singlehandedly destroyed the democratic government of the greatest country on Earth, started two wars, destroyed American credibility and standing all over the world, made a hash out of international diplomacy, let New Orleans drown and stood by idly while North Korea tests its nukes.

I can just hear them over their poached extra-large eggs on toast corners at breakfast:

GHWB: (from behind his newspaper as Faux News jabbers endlessly in the background) “Barb, he’s at it again. Boy just signed that torture bill and erased habeas corpus in this country as we know it.”

BM: “Well, that will show all those meanie blogger-people. I say lock ‘em up and throw away the key. They’re all such low-lifes, anyway.”

GHWB: “But honeybuns, the right to a fair trial and all that stuff are what the U.S. Constitution stands on. This could be serious.”

BM: Georgie will handle it, Poppy. He has Karl. And that Mexican boy, whats-his-name, his attorney-whatever.”

GHWB: “His numbers are mighty low, sweetums. The rabble is gettin’ rowdy.”

BM: “The rabble are, George. Are getting rowdy.”

GHWB: “Whatever. It just has me a little worried, Babs. The Iraq thing, that’s not lookin’ good, either. I told him it was gonna be a mess, but would he listen to me? No. He just ran right out and did it anyway. Wanted to smack ‘im for that. Bandar-butt and I both told him that Saddam, the old fox, didn’t have anything to do with 9/11.”

BM: “Oh, he knew that, poopsie. Georgie only did it for you, dear. He’s a good boy.”

GHWB: “Well, the torture thing on top of the Iraq thing and the Katrina thing, not to mention the Abramoff thing, the Kenny-boy thing and the ‘My Pet Goat’ thing, and now the torture thing and the North Korea thing ...”

BM: “You worry too much, Poppy. Eat your egg before it gets cold.”

GHWB: (sighing and rustling his paper) “Well, at least he’s got Baker on the job again. Jimbo will pull his nuts out of the fire. He did it in Florida, he’ll do it again.”

BM: “That’s the spirit, dear.”

GHWB: “You know Babs, you try to raise ‘em right. Gave GW everything he needed – a good education, his own jet in the National Guard, his own baseball team, a governorship and even the presidency, but he’s just thrown it all back in my face. Now, I’m trying to stay cheerful here, but his poll numbers are in the crapper.”

BM: “George! Your language!

GHWB: (blustering) “Don’t ‘George!’ me! Now they’re saying he could lose the House majority! Maybe even the Senate! If he loses them, Babs, it’s gonna be real hard on Georgie. Those do-gooder Dems will start all kinds of investigations and subpoena everyone. The shit will hit the fan!”

BM: (snatching the paper out of his hands) “That’s enough, you old fart! Dick and the Mexican boy have it all under control! And you know God’s been talking to Georgie when he's mountain biking.” (Tosses a bottle of pills at him) “Take your Prozac, dear. Your face is getting red.”

GHWB: (sighs and pops a pill) “I don’t know, sweetbuns. I hate to think about life for Georgie if the Democrats take control of Congress.”

BM: “Now, stop worrying, Poppy. The Diebold people are on that one. And besides, Jebby’s ready to step in and take over if ... well ... you know. If Georgie blows it again.”

GHWB: (brightening) “That’s true. Jebby’s a good boy too, isn’t he, Mommy.”

BM: “George Herbert Walker Bush! ‘Mommy!?’ I knew you and that skinny little rat-poodle Nancy had something going on the side! I’ll ‘Mommy’ you, you...”

Thanks, Poppy.

20 October 2006


After meeting today with Yoon Kwang Ung, South Korea’s Defense Minister, U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld told reporters that those darned Iraqis are just going to have to take matters in hand concerning their own security.

And the sooner the better.

Actually, he said, “sooner rather than later,” but provided no clue as to when such a turnover might happen. U.S. officials, like Gen. George Casey, the current top U.S. commander in Iraq, are, you know, working on it.

So how, exactly, is the Iraqi government supposed to take over its own country’s security? Beyond the fact that the government itself is only barely functional, it has no official military* – we fired everyone in the Iraqi Army during the giddy, free-for-all aftermath of Shock and Awe.

Most of those Iraqi soldiers – the ones who aren’t already dead or injured beyond any ability to serve – are likely today part of the sectarian religious militias which are so busily slaughtering their neighbors. Some may be in the Iraqi police force, which we’ve worked hard to build up, but which is riddled with so many of those sectarian militia members that people are as afraid of them as they are the militias themselves.

Outside of the artificial comforts of the Green Zone, electricity only works between two and four hours a day, intermittently. When people go out to buy gas for generators, or food, or go to work (if they have work) or to school, they risk being abducted and killed, or perhaps blown up by a car bomb or suicide bomber, or executed by people they used to live peacefully side-by-side with.

Nevertheless, Rummy wants the Iraqi government to take over. “When they stand up, we can stand down” and all that happy crappy. What are they supposed to take over with? Even if the Iraqi government had an army, the hard fact is that soldiers have to be fed and clothed and armed. They need medical care and vehicles, barracks and administrative support. The men need to know that their families are safe and cared for while they’re out there, fighting for their country, and they need to be paid a regular, decent wage.

Even the words “take over security” have the hollow ring of farce to them. No surprise there: Rumsfeld himself is a walking, talking farce, along with the rest of the Bush administration. (see the post about “character” below)

What’s to take over? U.S. troops certainly aren’t providing security. Instead, as Bush’s war dissolves into an Iraqi civil war our hapless soldiers hunker down in fortified hides, venturing out now and then to provide fodder for IEDs. As of today, U.S. deaths have surpassed 2,780, and there are more nearly every day. Many, many more U.S. soldiers are being terribly maimed and injured.

What a terrible, terrible joke. The U.S. isn’t providing any appreciable security for the Iraqi government to take over.

Riverbend, a young Iraqi woman living in Baghdad who writes the blog “Baghdad Burning,” posted the other day for the first time since early August. Her subject? The recent Lancet study, which estimates that more than 600,000 Iraqis have died since the U.S. attacked in March, 2003. She is understandably angry over Bush's and other U.S. officials’ casual, even offhand denial of that number. She writes,

“We literally do not know a single Iraqi family that has not seen the violent death of a first or second-degree relative these last three years. Abductions, militias, sectarian violence, revenge killings, assassinations, car-bombs, suicide bombers, American military strikes, Iraqi military raids, death squads, extremists, armed robberies, executions, detentions, secret prisons, torture, mysterious weapons – with so many different ways to die, is the number so far fetched?”

Yet Rumsfeld said today,

“The biggest mistake would be to not pass things over to the Iraqis, create a dependency on their part, instead of developing strength and capacity and competence,” said Rumsfeld. “It's their country, they're going to have to govern it, they're going to have to provide security for it, and they're going to have to do it sooner rather than later. And that means they've got to take pieces of it as we go along.”

No, Mr. Rumsfeld. The biggest mistake was attacking Iraq in the first place. In fact, it was done so on the basis of lies and with no planning by a bunch of swaggering, balls-for-brains cowboys, including you, who thought attacking an Arab country which couldn’t defend itself militarily would be a cakewalk, since we had the bigger toys. You didn’t bother learning the history of Iraq or about her people, you didn’t bother learning the language, you didn’t bother to think about what might happen after the bang-bang of the airstrikes ended. You ignored everyone who brought up the specter of guerrilla warfare in Iraq, even though it was inevitable. Governments don’t win guerrilla wars with guns and bombs. They can only be ended through negotiation and diplomacy, something you and your buddies are still, to this day, rejecting as “soft.” Idiot.

Now, President Bush has been forced to concede “it’s tough” over in Iraq. Sounds concerned, doesn’t he? It’s tough. He thinks he might just have to “change tactics.” Mired in the middle of a civil war we started through our arrogance and stupidity, “changing tactics” is far too little, far too late.

Riverbend again:

Everyone knows the 'official numbers' about Iraqi deaths as a direct result of the war and occupation are far less than reality (yes -- even you war hawks know this, in your minuscule heart of hearts). This latest report is probably closer to the truth than anything that's been published yet. And what about American military deaths? When will someone do a study on the actual number of those? If the Bush administration is lying so vehemently about the number of dead Iraqis, one can only imagine the extent of lying about dead Americans…

She has a point there, that clear-eyed young woman.

What can be done? It’s time to admit that attacking Iraq was a monumental, horrifying, criminal fuck-up on the part of America’s leaders, nothing more than a blatant grab for power and lucre without regard for human lives, Iraqi or American. Those leaders should be relieved of power, locked up and tried as war criminals before a world court, and the American forces still serving in Iraq should come home before more of them are killed or injured. After all, they’re more than soldiers – they’re our family.

And then, the American tax dollars now being spent to keep the bloody war machine grinding out nightmarish destruction and to make criminal American corporations rich should be used to try to rebuild and restore peace to the region.

Will it work? Probably not. It surely won’t end the sectarian civil war now underway in Iraq, nor will it bring peace or prosperity to the rest of the world, which depends on the oil that comes from the Middle East. It won’t bring back the thousands and thousands of people we’ve killed, Iraqi and American alike, or be much comfort to their grieving families.

But it would be a damned good start.

*My mistake: There is indeed an Iraqi army (small “a”) which has been trained by U.S. forces, along with the Iraqi police. Together they form the Iraqi Security Force. According to U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Caldwell, who spoke during a press briefing on Oct. 19, the force numbers 312,000. Those forces were turned over to the Iraqi government on Sept. 6, 2006.

There are 26 million Iraqis.

According to a story posted on Catholic Online,

“‘The rising number of civilian casualties shows that civilians are the targets of this war,’ said Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of Network, which lobbies Congress on peace and justice issues.

‘I don't know how we can square that with our Catholic Gospel values,’ she said.

Sister Simone, a Sister of Social Service, said Network maintains contact with 14 Iraqi women, several of whom came to the United States earlier this year to talk to lawmakers.

‘They don't think this (601,000) [from the Lancet study] is a wrong number,’ she said.

Four of the women have lost close relatives, she added. ‘Often they don't know what happens to the loved ones. They just disappear.’

A key problem in the civil strife is that different branches of the Iraqi military and police forces are infiltrated by militia members of rival political factions who use the security forces for partisan attacks, she said.

‘There is not a strong sense of identity to Iraq. Identity is more toward a sectarian militia or clan,’ she said. "

I think my point still stands.

He's a character, all right

With a straight face, George W. Bush declared this week, Oct. 15 through Oct. 21, National Character Counts Week.

It is deliciously droll, isn’t it?

18 October 2006

The final frontier

On the front page of this morning’s WaPo Online the biggest most blaring hed reads, “Bush’s Revised Space Plan Puts Defense First.”

I did a little double-take, because Bush’s pie-in-the-sky space plan hardly seems like above-the-fold news at the moment, with scandals breaking out all over in Republican Washington, not to mention the fact that the Great American Experiment is teetering on the precipice. Then I shrugged and read on down the page, looking for news that had more imminent impact. Must be a slow news day, I thought to myself, if Bush’s space plan is the only thing the WaPo editors can come up with as a top story.

There was nothing else on the page that caught my immediate attention, other than LA Police Chief William Bratton’s guest column about why he thinks we don’t need another intelligence agency along the lines of Britain’s MI5. I agree with him. We don’t. We don’t need a KGB either, but I have a sneaking suspicion we’ve got one, anyway. Someone’s got to be available to detain all us “unlawful combatants.”

Shhh. It’s a secret.

When I got back to the home page from Bratton’s column, I looked at that top story hed again. And the sub-hed beneath it, the teaser.

“Experts say the shift in policy, which asserts the right to deny access to space to anyone ‘hostile to U.S. interests’ could be viewed as a step toward arms.”

Deny access to space to "anyone hostile to U.S. interests”?

I snorted laughter, sputtering my mouthful of coffee. Correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t we nearly scuttle the shuttle for good over safety concerns? Isn’t there a big hoohaw over sending a shuttle crew to fix the Hubble Space Telescope again because of safety and cost, and to hell with scientific exploration and the continued illumination of the great mysteries of the universe? Didn’t the last Star Wars test fail miserably, again?

The last good news I’ve heard, outer space-wise, was that some tiny creeper robot we sent to Mars is inching toward the lip one of Mars’ giant canyons, and the photos and data it will send will soon be teaching us more about the red planet. Cool. But what in the world does any of that have to do with U.S. space ownership? Um, I don’t think we’ve got the corner on the universe, guys. At least, not yet.

How in the hell are we going to deny outer space access to others? Stomp our feets? Seems to me that we can’t deny access to space to anyone unless we have access ourselves, don’t you know.

But my understanding of these sorts of things is even less than my understanding of basic algebra, which is nada. So I read the rest of the story.

It seems to come down to this: The National Space Policy has been updated for the first time in ten years. It rejects any future arms-control agreements that might limit our “flexibility” in space and says we have the right to deny access to space to anyone “hostile to U.S. interests,” though it fails to explain how we might enforce that right. It encourages private enterprise in space in terms of “persuading other nations to support U.S. policy.”

Seems we’re concerned that other nations might try to take out our defense and communications satellites, disrupt cell phone services, personal navigation devices and (here’s an eye-opener) ATM machines.

Why didn’t I ever think of that before? Of course ATMs use satellite communications systems. Wow.

“The administration said the policy revisions are not a prelude to introducing weapons systems into Earth orbit. ‘This policy is not about developing or deploying weapons in space. Period,’ said a senior administration official who was not authorized to speak on the record.”

Yeah, right.

“Nevertheless, Michael Krepon, co-founder of the Henry L. Stimson Center, a nonpartisan think tank that follows the space-weaponry issue, said the policy changes will reinforce international suspicions that the United States may seek to develop, test and deploy space weapons. The concerns are amplified, he said, by the administration's refusal to enter negotiations or even less formal discussions on the subject.”

We know that George W. Bush would really, really like to have space-deployed weapons. It would be the ultimate in his wet-dreams of unilateral, pre-emptive, first-strike war capability. King George, indeed.

Just another little something to think about as you go to sleep at night, gang.

17 October 2006

Done deal

I wonder what passed through George W. Bush’s mind today as he signed the War Commissions Act?

A quick backgrounder: This is the act, passed by both Republican-controlled houses of our Congress, and with little more than unmanned, whimpering protests by our Democratic representatives and senators, which gives the president the power to decide that you or I are “enemy combatants” and put us in a dungeon cell for, conceivably, the rest of our lives. It also gives him the power to have us tortured in whatever manner he decides is appropriate. He doesn’t have to have evidence of wrongdoing any stronger than hearsay; he doesn’t need to get a warrant; and he doesn’t even have to tell anyone he did it. He can sentence us to death based on evidence that was obtained by detaining and torturing our families, our friends and our neighbors. He can, if he wishes, just lock the door to our cells and toss the keys to whichever sadist he’s put in charge of our particular place of “detainment,” and never bother his mind about us again.

Honestly, what was he thinking as he sat down at that little desk with the presidential seal and the banner, made up for the photo-op in blue with gold lettering, that said “Protecting America”?

I don’t feel protected. In fact, I feel more threatened than I’ve ever felt in my life, and I expect that anyone who’s really thought about what this new law means feels the same way. Americans who haven’t thought about it yet will before long, and when they do, they’ll be stunned and appalled.

Too late, then. Done deal.

But back to our grinning president, he with the fine black pen in his hand. When he signed his name, was he thinking about all the people out there who’ve said things he didn’t like about him? The ones who protested that his “war on terror” was a war in error? Who called him a liar and a cheat, who accused him of stealing the presidency, who made fun of him for mispronouncing “nuclear”?

Was he thinking to himself, “Got you now, suckers.”

We’ll know what Bush was thinking as he put pen to paper before long. Because with this law, he’s been given the power to silence his critics forever. If you’re a journalist – a real journalist, doing the job you’re supposed to do, writing and publishing the truth about what he and his supporters have done to America, you’ve got to be feeling the cold cat-paws of fear along your spine. If you’re a parent, you have to wonder what sort of world your children will find themselves in tomorrow. If you’re a university professor, trying to teach your students to ask questions and think critically, you’ve got to be wondering how long it will be before you’re told you no longer have a job, and how long after that it will be before you simply vanish, never to be heard from again.

I know. I sound like a deluded paranoid, even to myself. This just can't happen in America. But I wonder, I really do, what George W. Bush was thinking today. Because after he signed the Military Commissions Act, I also wonder if perhaps he went into a back room and also put his name to a carefully worded signing statement which denies even the Supreme Court from declaring the act unlawful and unconstitutional, stopping them from stopping him, once and for all.

After all, it’s a done deal, isn’t it.

13 October 2006

October story

In the fall, the sweet gum tree turned red.

There were just four red leaves glowing among all the green ones now, but he knew how it would be. In a few days, or a week, he’d get up one morning and the whole tree would be scarlet, an intense, almost unbelievable scarlet, tinged with hot orange, so wild and shocking it almost made you recoil it was so stunningly beautiful. The few green leaves left would act as contrasts, making the red ones appear even brighter. It was just an optical illusion, of course – opposite colors on the wheel -- but glorious nonetheless.

He’d look at the little tree – it was young, still only about 12 feet tall -- now and then for the next few days, enjoying the alien color. And then one evening, long after he was asleep, it would rain. There would be wind, gusty and harsh. And the next morning, the sweet gum tree would be bare, a thin gray skeleton surrounded by a pool of clotted blood.

For some reason, the quick drop of the scarlet sweet gum leaves always left him sad. It was so brief, that killer blaze of color. And it wouldn’t happen again for another 12 months. If he wasn’t paying attention he’d miss it entirely.

He vowed to pay attention, to savor the gift when it came.

Autumn was his best time of year. He’d been born in this season, and if his mother had hung on just a few more days, he’d have been a Halloween baby. It was a quiet time, autumn, a slowing, a calming down after the heat, fecundity and messy profusion of summer. The air slowly cooled and the sun shifted its arc across the sky, its light subtly different. The wind chimes sang more often. Night came earlier. Evenings required sweaters. He wouldn’t light a fire in the woodstove for another month, but some weekend mornings when the house was chilly, in the long hours before the sun warmed it he was tempted.

He liked the slowing of autumn, the sense of the world getting ready to hibernate. But he loved the sweet gum the best of all. Second-best were the tall fir trees. They didn’t change color, of course, but when autumn came you could hear their voices. Whenever the wind blew, you could hear them conversing in a soft whispery roar like a faraway surf, ebbing and flowing with the wind. And in the colder air, wet with rain, their scent conjured up spicy thoughts of frosts and snows to come, of warm fires and soup simmering on the stove.

Four scarlet leaves on the sweet gum. A flock of Canada geese, a ragged V high up in the sky, crying hurry, hurry.

Winter was coming. He smiled.

Breathing stopped

Hardly knew what to say this week, so I didn’t say anything. Mostly watched, slack-jawed, as the country slid further into the stench of history.

With Bush traveling the country ramping up his fearmongering rhetoric – the bad guys are coming to kill us all, unless you vote for Republicans – an enormous bucket of ice water was dumped all over our caterwauling, testosterone-pumped tomcat of a president when North Korea gleefully tested a nuclear weapon and then thumbed its nose at the world.

Large or small, successful or a dud, the nuclear test showed what a dismal, even criminal, failure this sorry excuse for a president and his policies have been.

Taken with all the other dreadful failures – the Sept. 11 attacks, which the Bush administration did nothing to prevent but have exploited ever since to keep Americans terrified and hold on to its power; Afghanistan, now increasingly back under Taliban sway; Iraq, a horror that will shame this nation until the end of history, putting it on a level with Hitler’s Germany and the Soviet Union; Hurricane Katrina, which destroyed the city of New Orleans and killed or left homeless thousands upon thousands of American citizens while Bush played the guitar and left hopeless morons in charge of the response; the revelation of the administration’s warrantless wiretapping of Americans; the destruction of habeas corpus and approval of torture of Americans by Americans with the hastily passed Military Commissions Act; the Jack Abramoff scandal and now, the Mark Foley scandal – it seems the sleeping giant that is the American people is finally, finally waking up.

Well, damn. It’s about time.

The wind has shifted. Americans don’t like what this president, his administration and his Republican majority, rubber-stamp Congress has done to their country. They’re starting to understand just how deeply mired in shit we really are.

The real estate bubble is slowly bursting. Foreclosures are up – and Americans no longer have even the unpleasant cushion of bankruptcy to fall back on, thanks to the Orcs. Gas prices are down, but I think most of us understand that the lower price is artificial, forced until after the election to make the Republicans look good. In the meantime, it costs more and more to put dinner on the table. There was some weak crowing a week or two ago about the stock market reaching it’s highest level in six years – but little acknowledgement that the level actually only matched, finally, what it had been in 2000, the year the Orcs stole the election. Some triumph.

As a liberal Democrat who’s been unrelentingly appalled and angry at the destruction of her country since the turn of the century, I should be laughing, dancing, popping champagne corks and indulging in all of the other general debauchery Blue America has been accused of. Latte, anyone?

But I’m not.

I’m holding my breath. Because George W. Bush and his supporters have shown us, time and time again, that they’re capable of anything. There are no morals to guide them, no compassion for the lives of others – Americans or foreign – nothing but empty rhetoric, fearmongering, and a brutal reach for more and more power.

A few weeks ago, we were all concerned about Bush pushing the nuclear button against Iran, a subject that has all but dropped from the headlines in favor of Foley and now, North Korea. But I don’t believe for a moment that Bush and his Orcs have forgotten. They’re cornered, and when an animal is cornered, it attacks.

With less than a month to go before the national elections, and with things looking very, very bad for a Republican majority in Congress, I believe they’ll do just about anything to hang on to power. Nuke Iran, killing millions and taking the risk that the entire world will turn against America?

Why not? With an American electorate too lazy to think for themselves, it might be just the thing needed to convince us to keep the status quo. Because then, we’ll be at war with the whole world, won’t we.

I hope I’m wrong. I want to be wrong. But I won’t be taking a deep breath until after the Nov. 7 elections – and maybe not even then.

07 October 2006

Can Foley save America?

With a national election only a month away, and America’s democracy hanging in the balance, all I can say is thank goodness for Mark Foley.

He came sleazing along, trailing sordid e-mails and IMs, just in the nick of time. History may well remember him as the guy who saved America, which is not bad for a grown man who seduces teen-aged boys.

Isn’t it ironic that although the Bush administration has launched two wars and threatened a third, caused the loss or ruination of thousands upon thousands of Afghani, Iraqi and American lives, and set about systematically undermining America’s great Constitution, it might end up being a smarmy pedarist who saves America’s ass and restores a little sanity to the world?

It boggles the mind. But I’m not complaining.

Since the news broke about Foley’s sometimes insinuating, sometimes explicit e-mails and instant messages to callow White House pages, the GOP has been in a frenzy, trying to back and fill, razing the air with trumpeting denials and pointing fingers at everyone but themselves. The scandal, which is just the kind that catches a lascivious America’s puritan attention the best – !illicit, non-missionary sex! -- has dominated the front pages, the Web, blogs and news shows on television and radio, offering up almost hourly mouthfuls of titillating information.

And all this just as President Bush sets out on a whirlwind tour of the nation doing luncheons and speaking engagements before friendly crowds of brain-dead supporters in order to shore up support for flagging congressmen and senators. He’s doing his damndest to ramp up the fear rhetoric and plaster the airwaves with shallow talking points before Americans head to the polls to decide who stays and who goes in Congress.
And Congress, let me just say, is not looking real good right now.

The Foley Fooforal comes on the heels of America’s gleeful support of Israel in the way-overdone attack on Lebanon and Palestine (the Lebanese are still trying to clean up the bomblets dropped from cluster bombs by the Israelis in the last few days of the conflict).

Then there’s the nodding approval of the administration’s nuclear saber-rattling at Iran, the reprehensible torture bill approval, the Abramoff scandal, Tom DeLay’s thundering and unrepentant fall from grace, and ... well. Need I go on?

As Americans who love our country and its Constitution (Democrats, Republicans and all other flavors), and who would much rather live in a more peaceful world where we work to talk out our problems rather than blowing them to bloody bits, all of us need to make sure that voters don’t forget what this latest scandal hides behind it. It stands squarely on the front lines of a government that has become fat, lazy and deaf with power, a government and a president that believes it doesn’t have to obey the laws of the land it governs.

This is wrong. This is dreadfully dangerous. If America is to survive the bloated, amoral, Jabba The Hut government it finds itself carrying on its back, it needs to find a way to throw it off or be crushed flat under its weight.

Thank you, Mark Foley, you creepy miscreant. You may have just stuffed one mouthful too many into the beast.

04 October 2006

Welcome to Amerika

While the nation obsesses over Congressional sleaze (“Look! Look over there! It’s a Foley!”) in Iraq, eight more American soldiers died. Twenty-one have lost their lives since Saturday alone.

George W. Bush, here in California on Tuesday, ramped up the fear rhetoric with 312 well-heeled Republican diners at an exclusive country club outside of Sacramento as they chowed down on $2000-per-plate lunches.

He reiterated his stance on staying the course in Iraq, that terrorists are out to kill us all and hate our freedom, and that Democrats would like to help them achieve their goal. Bush was delighted to be in this red county in a blue state, and said as much. The well-upholstered diners were proud as punch and cheered between each pronouncement.

Bush was raising emergency money for Rep. John Doolittle, who’s facing a very, very close race for the first time in 16 years. Democratic challenger Charlie Brown, a retired Air Force pilot who served for 26 years from Viet Nam to Desert Storm, is nippin’ at Doolittle’s heels like Snoopy after the Red Baron. And with reason: Doolittle has been linked to the Abramoff scandal and to the sweatshops in the Marianas Islands. He’s under some serious scrutiny in his once-loyal district.

Here’s a strange thing, though: The day before the president arrived, one of the reporters for the weekly paper I edit hit the local hangouts (where Republicans drink lattes, too) and, for our person on the street question, asked “What do you think about President Bush visiting here?”

He needed to record five answers, with photos of the answerers. I expected people to say they were excited and pleased, since Bush is the first sitting president to ever visit the county, and he chose this community for the honor. Like him or not, this was a pretty big deal.

But to my surprise, not one person the reporter approached was willing to answer the question – at least, not on record.

Understand, we weren’t asking people for their political affiliation. This is a random survey. Since a majority of the voters in the community vote Republican in each election, it wasn’t naïve, I thought, to expect positive remarks and willing subjects.

But they didn’t want to answer at all, and they sure didn’t want to have their faces and answers in their local newspaper. Some were candid enough, off the record, to say quietly that as local business people, they might lose customers if they told us. Others were concerned about what their neighbors would think. Many refused to explain at all, but they were definitely uninterested in answering the question.

What does this say about the state of affairs in our country, when people feel they can’t even publicly express their pleasure – or displeasure – about the fact that the President of the United States is visiting their community?

Were they afraid, in a country where indefinite detainment and torture of U.S. citizens at the president’s whim is now legal, to speak their minds?

Welcome to Amerika.

02 October 2006

Ill nation

Republicans: The party of dirty old men.

An ugly dig, I know. And I also know that all Republicans are not dirty old men. Some, many, most are good, decent people. My dad was a lifelong Republican. He was about the furthest thing from a dirty old man you could ask for. He was a good, kind, decent man.

Just before he passed away in May 2005, he was convinced that the war in Iraq was right because Saddam had been in cahoots with Osama bin Laden and supported terrorists. All the other things his party was doing – stripping environmental laws of their power, stacking the courts, and a myriad of other detrimental things – were being done for good reason. FOX News was tuned in on the kitchen TV in my parents’ home at least 18 hours a day. And he loved Rush.

We disagreed with each other vehemently, and I loved him dearly.

I know he would have been appalled by this latest revelation. He would have, however, separated this issue from all the others, arguing that this one man’s private perversions – and his party’s years-long enabling of them – had nothing to do with the ongoing war, the torture bill, warrantless wiretapping, the Abramoff scandal. He would have been appalled, but he would still have been wrong.

Because this latest horror -- the sexual victimization of children -- is part and parcel of the larger sickness that’s afflicting the party in power in America today. All of these things can be explained away, if you try hard enough, but they’re all symptoms of the insidious mental cancer that has turned the Republican party into the Bible-thumping, morals protesting, warmongering body it is. It’s sick. It's hypocritical. It has infected our very democracy and, if allowed to continue, will kill it.

It’s time to cut it out.